Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lynn Davy - "It's all about the beads!"

It’s all about the beads!

Part 2 of my quick guide to basic materials for seed beading. There is a lot more I could say on this subject (so help me, I’ve been a seedy beader for well over thirty years now) but I’ll try to keep it simple!

‘Seed beads’ covers those little glass beads in sizes from a couple of millimetres down to well-nigh invisible.

As with beading needles, the sizes are indicated by numbers. The bigger the number, the smaller the beads.

These are the three ‘standard’ sizes: size 8, size 11, and size 15. Most seed beadwork is done with size 11’s.

Size 8’s are a bit bigger and good for beginners or learning a new stitch as it’s easier to see what’s happening. (You can also use plastic ‘pony beads’ to learn or demonstrate seed bead stitches. They are huge, but they’re the right shape!)

It’s helpful to know that the relationship between the sizes is the same – in other words, a construction that works with a mixture of size 11 and size 8 will also work (but be smaller) if you make it with sizes 11 and 15.

For example, these bronze starfish are made with sizes 11 and 15, and the blue ones are sizes 8 and 11.

Seed beads are made by lots of different manufacturers in many different countries and there are subtle differences. Basically, when starting out it helps to pick one type and stick to it. You generally gets what you pays for: more expensive seed beads from Japan or the Czech Republic will be more evenly sized and shaped than cheapo ones from India or China.

There is a rainbow of colours to choose from and a confusing choice of surface finishes which I’m going to try to de-confuse a bit for you now…

Opaque. What it says on the tin. Bright, solid colour with either a shiny or a matte (sometimes called ‘etched’) surface.

In addition the surface may be given an iridescent coating often described as ‘rainbow’ or ‘AB’ (this stands for Aurora Borealis) or sometimes ‘iris’, ‘peacock’ or ‘oilslick’. This bracelet is made with opaque black (both shiny and matte) and blue iris seed beads.

Transparent. Also fairly self-explanatory. Light shines through and it’s worth remembering that the thread inside the beads will also show, so pick your thread colour carefully. White will brighten the colours; black will dull them.
Transparent beads may be shiny or matte and may also have an AB coating.

There are also ‘lustre’ coatings that give an extra-slick shiny look to the bead surface. The blue ones in the photo also have a coloured lining. (Watch out for catalogue descriptions where there isn’t an accompanying picture, as ‘pink lined blue’ may mean either a transparent blue bead with a pink lining OR a transparent pink bead with a blue lining!)

For extra sparkle, there are ‘silver lined’ beads (or sometimes ‘gold lined’ too) which have a metallic foil coating on the inside of the bead. A matte or semi-matte finish gives a softer glow.

When using lined beads, whether colour- or silver-lined, be careful not to scratch the lining with your needle when stitching, because this will show on the outside.

‘Opal’ beads have a milky, semi-transparent effect that is very delicate and pretty, often set off by a foil lining. ‘Pearl’ or ‘ceylon’ seed beads have a pearly finish, and may also be AB coated. This pink bracelet is a mixture of gilt-lined pink opal, cream ceylon and matte transparent pink AB beads… see how quickly you’re learning the language?

There are also lots of metallic coated beads, including 24 carat gold plated, gorgeous but expensive! I’ve used them for the leaves on these earrings, which won’t get much wear as they hang free.

The best ones to use are described as ‘duracoat’, which resist scratching. Otherwise the metal can wear off over time and spoil the effect. These snowflake earrings are made with silver-plated seed beads.

All beads with a surface finish should be handled with care – some finishes are more robust than others, so bear this in mind when making jewellery, particularly bracelets that will be worn a lot. Plain opaque or transparent beads are best for everyday items.

Pearly finishes and some metallics are sensitive to chemicals such as perfumes or even sweat from your fingers; many of those pretty coloured linings will fade badly when exposed to light. And I try to avoid beads described as ‘dyed’ or ‘surface dyed’ as these are rarely entirely colour-fast. Unfortunately it’s hard to make a true, sweet pink colour in glass, so most pinks are dyed. Experiment, make a sample and wear it, some are better than others… or you may find you like the effect you get as the beads ‘age’. Not all changes are necessarily bad!

The pink-lined beads in this pendant bail will eventually fade, but since the pendant has a ‘distressed’ effect, this probably won’t matter. The topaz brown transparent beads will stay the same.

And finally… there are lots of other shapes you can mix with your seed beads, such as bugles, teardrops (or ‘fringe drops’), triangles and cubes. Maybe a subject for a future post…

Happy beading!



  1. Bead fest :O) Something about these little things that really make me sit up! Thanks for the information, as a newbie seedy beadie its very useful x

  2. Brilliant Lynn, as always. I love reading your beady writings.

  3. Great post Lynn - I just got caught out assuming that the size of Myuki seed beads matched the size of delicas and would do the same job ie bead a rivoli- it was so easy once i tried it with delicas